At a family dinner, a 19-year-old young man was criticizing his 8-year-old cousin: “Why aren’t you eating more? Don’t pick out the lettuce. Why are you eating the lettuce on its own? You’re not supposed to do that!” No one else was saying anything and he got pretty angry. “Hey, when did you become the dinner police?” I joked.
If that kind of criticism came from the little girl’s aunt or uncle (not her mom), like it often did, I wouldn’t be surprised. But what does a college freshman guy care about a little girl picking at her food?
When I asked him later, he said “I don’t know.” Probably nothing, is what I think. “Is it possible that you’ve been criticized like that when you were little, and when your cousin was littler, that you’ve internalized it?”
I never spoke up in school, even if I knew all the answers. Even when it was the loud kids who were popular and the outspoken, opinionated kids who were seen as the smart ones. Now I’m not always certain if I have the answer, and I know that people, especially my older family members, might not agree with what I believe is right, given that people have different views, experiences and values. And I’m still terrified to say things that others, especially the loudest voices of the group, may not agree with. But now I am compelled to. Now I feel the need to.
Because if I’m silent on something that I don’t agree with, my daughter might think that I agree with it. Because some people talk loud and sound very certain, and they mock others who disagree, and they have smart comebacks that others don’t know how to argue with, so I want my daughter to know that this doesn’t mean what they’re saying is the truth, or the only truth. Because the voices of judgement, criticism, praise or encouragement all turn into our children’s internal voices and become the way they will talk not just to others, but to themselves too.